Peter Belyea on leadership: Be true to core values and surround yourself with smart people

Peter Belyea on leadership: Be true to core values and surround yourself with smart people

Posted on 05/15/2018

Peter Belyea on leadership: Be true to core values and surround yourself with smart people

By Stan Linhorst

StanLinhorst@gmail.com, syracuse.com

Peter Belyea has been CEO of CXtec, the I.T. infrastructure company, for five years. Belyea was employee number 15 when he met founder William Pomeroy and joined the company in 1998.

The company, with headquarters in North Syracuse, now has 450 employees and has expanded nationally. H.I.G. Capital acquired majority interest in the company from Pomeroy in 2016. It allowed CXtec to grow further. For instance, in 2017, CXtec acquired Atlantix Global of Atlanta, expanding into the server-storage market and related services.

Even with all the changes and growth, CXtec remains known for its community involvement, part of the culture that Pomeroy instilled in CXtec and Belyea nurtures.  

Were you in leadership roles growing up?  

I migrated in that direction, not necessarily intentionally. I was pretty active in high school (Adirondack High School) in sports and extracurricular things. I was the president of our FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America). I went to Boys State, and all of a sudden you find yourself in those leadership roles.

I don't know at that age whether you look at it as a leadership role or just something that interests you.

I had some amazing mentors in high school and college. They taught me values, and they helped me to understand that things don't necessarily come easy - that you have to work for them.

At Morrisville, one of my professors in the electronics field was challenging. Every test in his class was open book. What it meant was that anything in the books could be on the test. It taught me information is power and having it stuck between your ears is not necessarily as important as knowing how to find the information you need to make good decisions.

Listening to people, understanding people's perspectives, particularly from people that don't agree with you, helps you make the best informed decision.

I've been involved in school board (Chittenango Central School District) and leadership roles within the education community. The difference that great teachers can make in a kid, to make them successful adults, is priceless. Good teachers give them the building blocks to move forward. Teachers can make or break a young person, their career, where they're going, their life.  

Leaders in these Conversations regularly describe a teacher who changed the direction of their life.  

In my senior year in high school, a teacher, who was my advisor, taught me the lesson that no one person is indispensable. You can be as great as you think, but tomorrow, you can be replaced.

Her lesson sticks with me. Someone will step into my role, maybe at the same capacity, maybe at a better capacity, or maybe less. But life will go on. There were people here before me - my grandparents, their grandparents.

You have to have that humility to lead.

That humility helps you understand: Do something good for somebody else because they're going to be in your role someday. The greatest compliment you can have is when that person steps into your role and moves the ball forward.  

What advice would you give for effective leadership?  

First of all, you have to have a strong personal set of core values that you bring into the organization.

Your core values and the organization's core values have to align. If you spoke with people here, they would say to you our core values are not negotiable - honesty, integrity, teamwork.

One of Bill's core values is the concept of entrepreneurial spirit. You have to be willing to do things that are out of your comfort zone.

Here as an organization and in my personal life, you have to be committed to community service.

Those are our underpinnings.

So, be true to your core values. Then surround yourself with the smartest people.

If you're afraid that Stan's going to be smarter than you, then that's the first really bad thing that can happen to both the organization and to yourself.

In sports, you always want to play against somebody who's going to pick your game up, who's going to push you forward. If you're playing everybody you can beat easily, there's going to be no improvement in your game. If anything, your game, your performance, is going to go the wrong direction. You always want to be challenged by the people you work with.

Smart people stimulate you, they make you think about things in a different way, they move you forward. In today's social media world, you can surround yourself with people who think just like you. You can get the news you want to hear. You can get the feedback you want to hear. That lack of stimulus creates a one-dimensional person. That kind of an echo chamber is a sad state of affairs, and it's dangerous in business.

So, maintain your core values, be open to ideas, and then have a vision of where you want to go and what you want to do.  

How do you communicate the vision so everybody knows it and feels inspired to join it?  

My style in general is to be transparent. So, we communicate - all the time. You have to reinforce the messaging that you have.

I know it's a cliche, but I have an open-door policy. Sometimes, it's a line of people. I'm usually in the office at 6:30, so people realize it's easy to grab me then. 

You want to be approachable. When you're the CEO, people don't think they can just go in to see the CEO and say whatever.

But I'll tell you, in our organization the most successful people do that. They're confident.

We reinforce our core values at every single meeting, every single time I send out a communication. You have to have that clarity. In a company of 450, if you have three people that say you've communicated too much, you're probably not communicating too much. You're probably not communicating enough.  

What qualities do you see in good leadership and in leaders you admire?  

They articulate where they want to go.

If you don't know where you're going, you're adrift.

The leader needs to be open to listening to opposing or conflicting opinions to that approach. You have to be willing to share.

I've said it a thousand times: You have to have values.

You have to have a pillar that you build off of, a foundation that you build on. People have to know how are you going to react. Your values define that. 

When you see a poor leader and ineffective leadership, what attributes do you see?  

That tends to be somebody who talks a lot and doesn't listen. Somebody who's autocratic. You never know how they're going to make a decision.

We all like to have a degree of consistency. We work in an organization that is growing, and we're moving a lot of people's cheese on an ongoing basis, because you went from 250-275 people to 450 people. You've doubled the sets of products, you're adding new services to your mix. People's lives are changing. They need to know that we're going to be open and honest. We're here building an organization so that 10 years from now, you'll still be able to provide for your family and we'll be able to stimulate you along the way. 

How do you go about hiring people who have the values of CXtec culture? 

I look for the three Hs: Hungry, honest, and hard working.

You give me hungry, honest and hard working, I'm willing to invest in that person to help make them successful.  

How can a leader spark innovation in their company?  

First of all, you listen. Innovation comes from all areas of a business.

We have programs here that are designed to recognize people who come up with cool and new and innovative approaches to how we do business.

We have a gentleman who came up with a totally out-of-the-box idea last year, and that idea saved us a quarter million dollars. It was somebody stepping in and looking at a situation from a different vantage point, who could walk into the circle and say: The view over here is a little bit different.

You want to always be encouraging people to provide feedback to you. You talk to manufacturers and analysts and people like that, and you have to be listening to what your customers are saying. That is who we are here to serve.

If you have an innovative mindset, it encourages people to speak up.

When someone tries something, especially when they step out of their comfort zone, reward those decisions even if they don't pan out.  

That brings us to leading through change, and it seems like change is accelerating, especially in the digital space. What's your advice to effectively lead through change?  

First and foremost, always over-communicate. Always over-communicate. If you don't think it's a pain, you've probably not communicating enough.

How many times have you heard someone say: Well, I explained that.

If you explained it once, you probably reached 1 percent of your audience. That's especially true in a large-group format where people are coming in and out.

Use different approaches. You might relate to me really well in a large group. But somebody else might not. You might relate to me through the written word. Or in a video presentation. You have to reach out to people multi-modal to make sure that they are getting the information in a way that is congruent with how they learn and take in information. It's not a one-size-fits formula.

I'm a huge Walt Disney fan. Walt said it best: If you can dream it, you can do it.

So take the blinders off.

Treat your people right. Listen to what they're saying. Always be looking forward. Those are some of the tenets at Disney. It matters how you present yourself. It matters the attitude you have when you look forward.  

I heard that you walk through the building often, engaging people in conversation. Tell me about that.  

You have to connect. It's simple: Treat people the way you want to be treated. When I was working for others, I wanted somebody to take an interest in what I was doing and the projects I was working on. So I try to make sure I walk through often. Literally, if I have to go from here to marketing, I head out and meander through.

The leader has to know people, know their names, know something about them. I'm terrible with names, it's my Achilles heel, so I know I have to work extra hard on it.

There was a gentleman by the name of Dick Clark, of Clarks Petroleum Service in Canastota. One evening many years ago, I was doing an upgrade project in his facility. He was in his office. Here he is, the owner of the company, and I'm a lowly tech. We were talking about something, and I said: You're here late.

He said: I have one rule. Be here before people come to work, and be here when they go home at night. You can play golf in the afternoon if you want, but people need to know that you're committed to them.

It matters for people to see you and know you're approachable.  

CXtec and its employees are known for being active contributors to the community. Why is that important for a business?  

I think being committed to the community allows the organization to help support things that are important to your employees. Everybody has something that's important to them.

As we grow and have more facilities here and in Atlanta and probably elsewhere, it's important for people to understand we value community involvement as a priority.

We're about to roll out an employee volunteer program to make sure it's not just the things that the leadership thinks are important. We want to put it in the hands of our employees, to make it even more grassroots for the things the company supports with time and treasure. Let the people, our associates, in Atlanta decide what's important in Atlanta.

There's the altruistic reason for helping people in the community. That reflects on the company. It makes a better place for people to come to work. It brings in new perspective that helps the company.

Let me give a shout-out to SRC. They've been tremendously helpful to help us putting that framework together.

If you look around our building, our values are everywhere. They're on our walls, everyone has one on their desk, they're everywhere.

When you have those core values, the core values become the company - they are the company. 

The weekly "CNY Conversation" features Q&A interviews about leadership, success, and innovation. The conversations are condensed and edited. To suggest a leader for a Conversation, contact Stan Linhorst at StanLinhorst@gmail.com. Last week featured Melissa Zell of the Pioneer Companies. She says a leader, especially a new leader, should take the time to see the big picture "before you go in and start tinkering." 

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